Consumer Desire for Personalized Experiences Drive Change at Hotels
As we move further into the era of social media and mobile-based conversations, there’s less actual in-person communication, however, the need for interaction hasn’t gone away. And the hospitality industry is exploring ways to create more intimate experiences with their guests. Hotel brands that are succeeding in this way are those that recognize this need for intimacy and are able to create emotional connectivity to help bridge the technology gap.
Breaking Down the Lobby
Hotel owners for decades viewed the lobby as a necessary evil that didn’t warrant much thought in terms of its purpose or design. The lobby included a bar and a lobby lounge. New hotel plans bring energy back into the lobby, and ensure the space represents the entire hotel experience. They’re making the lobby an expansion of lounge spaces, where people can choose their own way to interact, whether it’s cocktails with friends or a place to work while charging three different devices as the day evolves from early morning to late at night. Some hotels are eliminating the lobby desk altogether, with arriving guests being approached by staff who check them in via tablet, allowing them to quickly move on with work or leisure so guests can customize their experience.
This change is especially important for millennial travelers who are as a group taking over Baby Boomers as the largest and most influential group of consumers. The Moxy brand by Marriott is diving into the changing lobby by making the bar the focal point of the hotel. Guests check in to their rooms at the bar which also functions as the concierge and work area. It turns the idea of the “lobby” on its head and represents what’s possible for hotel designers who desire to create engaging spaces that create more emotional responses from guests. The lobby is no longer seen as wasted space, and designers can then work in some retail, various lifestyle products, a café or even a bookstore within that space. All of these choices help differentiate the particular brand.
Companies are starting to adapt their loyalty programs to the different subsets of people while also focusing on improved personalization, especially when some hotel collections operate more than 20 different brands. There are some travelers that are “points junkies” who get credit card bonuses, limited time points promotions, and other offers to maximize their points for a future reward. However, there is an increasing number of guests who simply want recognition and customization. They travel a lot and expect the hotel brand to really understand them. Frequent travel produces data, so hotels must use personal habit information to adjust the hotel experience. The room temperature might be adjusted before someone’s arrival, or the Wi-Fi is already prepped.
Hotel operators should recognize the “length of experience” for a hotel stay is much longer than the typical three hour airline flight. An upgrade to business class on a flight is great, but what about an upgraded experience for a 72-hour hotel stay? Maybe it’s a better room with a city view on a higher floor. Perhaps it comes with free room service tailored to your past orders or enhanced toiletries. Hotel managers should recognize the entire experience. When a restaurant experience just feels “right” it’s the sum of the comfort of the chair, the music, the food, the entire “vibe”. But if one component is off, then the experience isn’t memorable. Hotels should strive for this same harmony, where every aspect of the stay builds to create a smooth and personalized experience, to offer the perfect “meal” of service.
The collection style hotel brand must work harder to offer single platforms for loyalty. There’s hard costs for loyalty programs, and hotel companies and owners must balance personalized rewards with revenue. This is one of the most significant drivers for encouraging direct booking and moving away from intermediaries who sit between the brand and guests, as hotels need to retain more of every reservation.
Turning Towards a More Connected Future
More and more the guests are customizing their experiences, and the loyalty program needs to enable this freedom and choice. Perhaps the guest receives an extra 6,000 Hilton Honors points for skipping their daily breakfast or performing a survey. It’s a blend of choice mixed with a reward that instantly personalizes loyalty.
Hoteliers are only limited by their imaginations and technology, and AI will continue to enable this transformation. They can adjust the color of the lighting in the bedroom or bathroom based on the customer’s preferences. Their favorite song can play when they enter the room for the first time, and a different song when they’re checking out. Perhaps some guests like a rose petal scent, while others prefer fresh lemon. The possibilities are endless for creating emotional connections, and hotel brands must dive in and experiment with personalized experiences that are tied to loyalty.
Hotels really need to learn from other industries, not just airlines or car rental companies. But they must start observing the best retail and entertainment experiences, and see how those brands are creating preselected experience. Hotel stays are intimately personal, they aren’t transactional or e-commerce, so brands must do their best to elevate and enrich every stay.
Patrick Imbardelli is Director and Advisor at Next Story Group. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the hotel industry. During his career, Patrick has worked with companies such as InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton International and Pan Pacific Hotels Group. His achievements include: capital restructures, investments in developing countries, integrating hotel management companies, businesses and brands. He now runs a private investment company from Singapore and Sydney, as well as serving as an advisor for organizations in the US and Asia.